The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on black surface.

The premium Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are one of few premium ANC headsets to sport an IPX4 rating.

True wireless workout earbuds have taken the world by storm, but few of us know what the most important spec means. Almost every workout headset includes an IP rating, and today we’re going to run through what IP ratings are, why they matter, and the most important ones for your exercise regime.

Editor’s note: this article was updated to answer an FAQ about the MIL-STD-810G rating.

What is an IP rating?

An Ingress Protection (IP) rating denotes how resistant a device is to dust and water. Now, if you’re like I was prior to researching water-resistance, you might not know what ingress means either. That’s A-Okay. Ingress is just the act of going in or entering.

Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide

What does the X mean, in say an IPX4 rating?

The X serves as a placeholder for the degree of dust- or water-resistance in a given IP rating. Not all devices receive a rating that covers both variables, hence why many headphones and earbuds receive an IPX4 rating. In this case, the X means that the headset in question didn’t receive a dust-resistant rating, so best not to use it at the beach or when rock climbing. The 4 following the X is the liquid ingress protection rating.

 Water-resistantWaterproofCan withstand
IPX0Not water-resistant
IPX1Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
IPX2Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
IPX4Splashes, omnidirectional
IPX5Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
IPX6Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
IPX7Complete submersion
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
IPX8Complete submersion
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min

As we said, IP ratings are broken down into two categories: dust and water-resistance. The former ranges from zero to six, while the later goes up to eight. As you might expect, the lower the number, the less it’s able to combat the respective hazards.

 Dust-resistantDustproofCan withstand...
IP0XNot dust-resistant
IP1XA solid object > 50 mm
IP2XA solid object > 12.5 mm
IP3XA solid object > 2.5 mm
IP4XA solid object > 1 mm
I5XDust-protected, small solid objects won't interfere with device operation
IP6XAny amount of dust, completely dust-tight

Case Study 1: The Bose Sport Earbuds

The Bose Sport Earbuds true wireless workout earbuds sit outside of the closed charging case, all objects are covered in sprinkles of water to illustrate IPX4 rating.

The Bose Sport Earbuds boast an IPX4 water-resistance rating.

The Bose Sport Earbuds merit an IPX4 certification. Bose designed the earphones to be protected against splashes from any direction. The Bose Sport Earbuds, and any water-resistant headset with an IPX4 rating or higher, can handle even the sweatiest of us and be no worse for the wear. As a matter of fact, they’ll likely survive a clumsy spill from a water bottle too. That said, don’t go around thinking these are invincible. Full immersion will render them useless.

Case Study 2: The Plantronics BackBeat FIT

A picture of the Jabra Elite Active 75t true wireless workout earbuds (navy) submerged in a Pyrex bowl of water.

You can submerge the Elite Active 75t true wireless workout earbuds for up to 30 minutes.

Jabra engineered the Jabra Elite Active 75t with durability in mind above all else. These earphones received one of the highest IP ratings at IP57, making them dust and water-resistant. If you’re a gymnast in training, beach runner, or rock climber, we recommend the Elite Active 75t. A dust-resistance rating of five indicates that these are protected from traces of dust, which can still permeate the headphones but it won’t interfere with their ability to function. Regarding waterproofing, a rating of seven allows for complete immersion at one meter for up to 30 minutes.

Why you should care about IP ratings

You may not think your lifestyle warrants any kind of device-proofing, but accidents happen. Even the hydrophobic need to drink, leaving potential spills to chance. Nowadays, additional protection doesn’t necessitate additional cost. While the examples above are of top-tier earbuds, there are plenty of true wireless earbuds under $100 and even under $50 with some degree of water-resistance.

Poor spending habits aside, headphones that are rewarded with IP ratings will likely remain on your head longer than those lacking certification. If a pair of headphones receives an IP rating, you can rest easy knowing that a drop of water, spring deluge, or an unexpected poolside shove won’t short-circuit the internals. And as a backup, many warranties cover water-resistance failures. Worst-case scenario you jump through some bureaucratic hoops to justify a repair. Still, not too bad.

Next: What makes a good pair of running headphones?

Frequently Asked Questions

What about the MIL-STD-810G rating?

Our sister site Android Authority has a thorough writeup on the MIL-STD-810G rating, but the sum is this: the MIL-STD-810G is a US military specification that indicates a devices has undergone a battery of 29 durability tests, ranging from extreme temperatures, shock, vibration, humidity, and more. You're more likely to see this rating with certain smartphones, but headsets like the V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition warrants this specification.